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← Quest for Fire Began Earlier Than Thought

Pete H's Avatar Jump to comment 11 by Pete H

Naturally occurring volcanic springs would have provided a much more reliable and permanent source of heat and wouldn't have required him to sit around twiddling his opposable thumbs waiting for a forest fire or a lightning strike to occur.

Lightning strike can be sufficiently reliable.

Australian human history is more recent, around only 80,000 years, but similar conditions would have occurred elsewhere and much earlier in human history. Lightning ignited bushfires are extremely common in Australia. And many animals are too slow moving to escape these bush fires. E.g. Snakes, koala,and wombat and the megafauna of the era. So cooked meat from carcasses is easy to find. Just follow the pillars of smoke, visible from over 30km away. The prehistoric equivalent of McDonalds yellow arches.

Humans can travel a very long way on meal of protein and saturated fat. And we have the ability to rapidly stock up tremendously on belly fat – enough to last for months. Internally consuming 20kg of accumulated body fat could keep a man fully energised for 6 months or so, despite otherwise eating only lettuce and a few other scraps. Possibly this instinctive expectation to eat hot food every 30 km or so is why we now have truck stops and McDonalds restaurants at 30 km intervals along major Australian highways. Plus it also explains the typical Australian long distance truck-driver’s natural inclination to acquire 20kg of accumulated belly fat as quickly as possible. Most of us are aware of the ‘problem’ of obesity, but few are aware of the evolutionary advantages of obesity as a solution in a scavenging lifestyle.

It would have only been a small step from this natural scavenging to deliberately triggering artificial bush fires, based on the observation that the charred vegetation opens up clearings in the bush and encourages new grass growth which attracts browsing megafauna while making them very much easier to catch. (Including catching them by starting a fresh bush fire and burning them to death.)

It’s known as fire stick farming. There’s a theory that pretty much the ecology of much of the entire continent of Australia was transformed into a giant tinder box and the original megafuana were entirely extinguished around the time that humans first became established in Australia. So this process may have happened very quickly.

The innovative technology of the spear thrower may be relevant. Spear throwers enable much more effective killing of larger animals, plus they get very hot and possibly smoulder and ignite from the abrasive rubbing when spear throwers are being shaped during manufacture. Same principle applies to the bow and arrow and its application to fire bows. Once human groups have acquired one of these technologies then the associated approach to fire making also exists by default. Perhaps it’s also possible to start fires by rubbing tiny twigs dipped in a mixture of bat guano.

Sat, 07 Apr 2012 23:22:33 UTC | #932966